Vandalized street lights leave Albuquerque Sunport drivers in the dark

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) - It's a gateway into Albuquerque and New Mexico, but travelers might have a hard time seeing much of anything once the sun sets.

A big chunk of the main road from the Albuquerque Sunport is dangerously dark, and it's taking a long time to fix as the city's usual go-to repair crew -- PNM -- says it can't do the work to turn the lights back on.

Drivers heading west on Sunport Boulevard may have noticed the sudden darkness, which begins shortly after the brightly illuminated ribbon-like public art that's showcased along the roadside.

Just past the University Boulevard off-ramp, the overhead street lamps are out of service, leaving drivers feeling almost like they're going through a tunnel.

"It's very, very dark," said Mark Motsko. "We (don't) want people to have their welcome into the city as a dark tunnel into I-25 north."

A spokesman for the city of Albuquerque's Municipal Development Department, Mark Motsko admits the darkness is a problem.

"It is paramount that they get them fixed," said Motsko.

The dark lights stretch for about a half-mile on Sunport Boulevard's westbound lanes. The darkness is especially noticeable where cars make the right turn on to I-25's northbound on-ramp.

The cause of the problem isn't new for the city.

"The lights on Sunport (Boulevard) are out because of an apparent case of vandalism, copper theft, and it is extraordinarily dark in that southern part of the city," said Motsko.

Oval covers are missing at the base of several of the poles near the on-ramp, also showing cut and exposed wiring.

While the vandalism is a problem, the city is also worried because of safety concerns, or the effect that a lack of lights has on drivers.

During the day, it's clear the I-25 on-ramp is problematic. An orange barrel sits near a cracked concrete barrier that's been pummeled by cars who missed the turn. Further down the on-ramp, one of the light poles sits in pieces on the ground next to a broken car bumper.

"We want to get these lights up as fast as we can," said Motsko.

The city tells KRQE News 13 that it has been trying to get the city-owned lights fixed for weeks and they've contacted PNM about repairs. PNM does the majority of the city's light pole repair work.

According to a 2014 city document, the city says it only maintains and takes care of repairs on decorative light poles (Nob Hill), pedestrian level lights, and the extremely tall light posts at freeway interchanges.

"We're hoping we can work with (PNM) and get this done quickly," said Motsko.

However, PNM told KRQE News 13 on Monday that the Sunport Boulevard street lamps are special, and the city needs to hire someone else to fix it.

In a statement, PNM said that's because the Sunport-area's street lamps are all connected to a meter. According to PNM, by law, the utility's lineman cannot do the work and only licensed electrician can work on light poles that are connected to meters.

This will likely be the last of the back and forth between the city of Albuquerque and PNM over light pole repair work though.

In late November, a private company, "Citelum," will start replacing and repairing all 21,000 City of Albuquerque-owned light poles.

Citelum's contract, which has been approved by Albuquerque City Council, is slated to last the next 15 years. The company has also promised the city a more streamlined repair process.

"Not only do I hope that this is going to be a faster process with Citelum, it's written into their contract where it's an incentive for them to make it a faster process," said Motsko. "If they don't meet those standards, then they will be penalized financially."

For now, drivers near the Sunport will have to keep waiting for a fix.

PNM sent the following statement to KRQE News 13 regarding its role in the city-owned light pole repair work, and the city document that outlines Albuquerque's various types of light poles:

"The lights in question are city-owned and metered, and therefore the work must be performed by a contract electrician and not PNM.

The (city of Albuquerque) document you are referring to isn't the actual contract that defines responsibilities for repair work. All equipment "behind" a meter is, by law, licensed contract electrician work. Were we to affect repairs in this situation, we would be violating trade agreements. PNM crews are lineman and do not do the work normally done by licensed contract electricians.

Again, this would be similar to us being requested to work on a homeowner's electrical outlet. We cannot and are not licensed for that work.

This is a question of responsibility between customer owned equipment and energy provider owned. While we do work on non-metered, city-owned equipment frequently, in this case, by law, the responsibility for these types of repair is established at the meter."

--Dan Ware, PNM Communications


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